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Radio 4 Extra: Responding to your feedback

Sunday 24 April 2011, 12:00

Mary Kalemkerian Mary Kalemkerian

Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Jo Kendall, David Hatch and Bill Oddie from 1965

Hello again,

I've been reading your comments and feedback on the blog and elsewhere and wanted to respond to some of the points that people have made. I commented last week on the blog and Streetlight2 has identified some of the other things many of you are asking about so I've based my answers around them:

The presenters on 4Extra - what's the thinking behind changing them from the R7 team?

Now that Radio 4 Extra is aligned with Radio 4, the presentation teams are working together. Some of the Radio 4 presenters were keen to work on Radio 4 Extra, which is very different from reading the news on Radio 4! Of course Jim Lee, a stalwart of Radio 7/4Extra, has worked on both networks for over 8 years and Alan Smith, who was with Radio 7 in the early days, is now back with us again. Former Radio 7 presenters will have the occasional presence on 4Extra; in fact you can hear Helen Aitken in a couple of weeks interviewing a comedy troupe performing a Sherlock Holmes spoof.

All of the presenters have other work of course, both on radio and television, and fans of Alex Riley can see him popping up regularly on BBC Three.

What about the lack of drama programming?

The drama remit for Radio 7 was originally to broadcast a minimum of 50 hours per week. As Radio 4 Extra, we committed to a minimum of 55 hours of drama per week, and we actually broadcast more than that. You might be surprised to know that on Radio 4Extra, we broadcast on average of 68 hours per week, including of course the 24-hour overnight repeats.

As Head of Programmes launching Radio 7 over 8 years ago, and faced with a blank sheet of paper, I was keen to schedule longer drama on the archive station, and introduced two 90 minute plays at weekends, plus a 75-minute Woman's Hour archive omnibus on Sundays. The omnibus has been popular, and to build on that we have introduced a second 75 minute omnibus on Saturdays, made up of the previous week's Radio 4 Woman's Hour serial. With adding some new elements to the schedule, we stopped broadcasting the 90 minute drama on Sundays, but brought in the 60 minute children's/family drama slot, commissioning 8 new dramas in the process.

But of course, radio stations evolve and as with any radio station we will continue to review our output.

On Radio 4 Extra I was also keen to retain the 60 minute dramas, daily from Monday to Friday, plus the daily 45 minute dramas. These have included Fortunes of War, Howard's End and Ben Hur, three terrific and substantial dramas, plus currently for Easter, the landmark Dorothy L Sayer's production, The Man Who Would be King, in twelve 45 minute episodes. We have had good feedback on these productions, and are planning to follow-up with the Complete Smiley dramatisations, beginning in May.

The 7th Dimension and Crime and Thriller hours have remained the same, with the 1.00am repeat of the Crime and Thriller Hour being re-instated for the night owls from the week beginning 16 May.

Complaints about broadcasting The Archers, Ambridge Extra and Desert Island Discs. If some of these programs are available on Radio 4, then why put them on Radio 4 Extra?

Following the research and consultation we undertook, the BBC Trust wanted to ensure that there wouldn't be too many changes in the re-branding and in fact 85% of the Radio 4 Extra schedule has remained unchanged.

The Archers and Desert Island Discs are very popular strands, so we decided to build on these strengths to attract Radio 4 listeners (many of whom were/are unaware of the existence of Radio 7).

Regarding The Archers, we considered some archive programming, but with some missing programmes this would be difficult to sustain; we also felt that a repeat of the omnibus was not quite right, so the decision was made to commission a short, new Archers serial - Ambridge Extra. This will be running until the end of June, followed by a summer break.

I was interested to note that in the most recent podcast chart, Ambridge Extra came in at number 2 - just behind Adam and Joe.

When I started Radio 7, archive Desert Island Discs was on my shopping list, and I was keen to group the DID programmes in batches featuring The Comedians, The Actors, The Musicians etc. I have always thought that listeners would value the opportunity to hear archive editions of DID and the launch of 4Extra provides this as does the new DID website, updating information on the castaway, linking into the schedule when possible. For example, we began with children's authors, and when Jacqueline Wilson was last week's castaway, we broadcast one of her readings on the 4 0'Clock Show.

We will be following up with The Authors and The Comedians.

Any change to a network can be difficult to accept, and when the idea was initially mooted to change Radio 7, I admit I had my reservations.

Like some listeners, I was concerned that the station might become too serious.

However, I truly believe that there are many benefits in being so closely aligned with Radio 4. Some fresh ideas have been introduced, but at the same time I feel that we have managed to retain the entertainment essence that launched Radio 7 eight years ago - we continue to bring you great radio comedy and drama.

It would be impossible to please all of our listeners all of the time, but I hope that all of you manage to find entertaining programmes to listen to on Radio 4 Extra most of the time,

Best wishes


Mary Kalemkerian is Head of Programmes at BBC Radio 4 Extra

  • The photograph is from the BBC picture library. The caption reads "Picture shows (l-r) Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Jo Kendall, David Hatch and Bill Oddie, five young comedians from the world-travelled 'Footlights Revue' Cambridge Circus, who star in the new comedy revue series I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, which begins in the BBC Light Programme on Monday 4th October, 1965."


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    Comment number 1.

    First, I would like to thank Mary for responding to the many comments on the new rebranding of Radio 7. I would like to give my personal reply to some of her individual remarks.

    “The presenters on 4Extra - what's the thinking behind changing them from the R7 team?
    Now that Radio 4 Extra is aligned with Radio 4, the presentation teams are working together. Some of the Radio 4 presenters were keen to work on Radio 4 Extra, which is very different from reading the news on Radio 4!”

    As Mary said in 2002, Radio 7 “really is a special kind of radio station.” Part of what made it so special was its style of presentation, which has always been very distinct and very different from Radio 4. From the comments above, however, it would appear that this unique station identity has now been abandoned, with the aim of “alignment” with Radio 4.

    There has been no explanation from the BBC as to why there is a need to align Radio 7 with Radio 4. They serve two very different functions and very different audiences. According to Tim Davie, the new station will have a similar budget, so it is clearly not a cost-cutting exercise.

    I am interested to hear that Radio 4 presenters are keen to work on the new station, however, just because people like the idea of working somewhere else, doesn’t mean that it is the right strategic decision to allow them to do it. Surely what the listeners want is more important?

    “Complaints about broadcasting The Archers, Ambridge Extra and Desert Island Discs.
    If some of these programs are available on Radio 4, then why put them on Radio 4 Extra? The Archers and Desert Island Discs are very popular strands, so we decided to build on these strengths to attract Radio 4 listeners (many of whom were/are unaware of the existence of Radio 7).”

    So, let the Radio 4 listeners listen to Radio 4 to hear these shows then! The logic followed here seems to be: We want to make Radio 4 listeners aware of Radio 7, so rather than trail elements of R7 on R4, to raise awareness of the digital station, we will just make R7 sound more like R4 and change its name so people don't forget.

    What seems likely to be happening is that you may have got some R4 listeners to switch over to R4X for some programmes, however, many loyal R7 listeners who are not interested in this type of show, have switched off completely, thus reducing the overall BBC Radio audience.

    “I was interested to note that in the most recent podcast chart, Ambridge Extra came in at number 2 - just behind Adam and Joe.”

    From which we may conclude that Archers fans are just downloading the podcast, rather than actually switching to the new station!

    “...I feel that we have managed to retain the entertainment essence that launched Radio 7 eight years ago...”

    It would appear that the very essence of Radio 7 is what has been lost, which is very sad.

    “It would be impossible to please all of our listeners all of the time...”

    But, apparently it is quite easy to please pretty much none of them.

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    Comment number 2.

    well said robert i couldnt agree more .
    In my reading of this mary basically said we would rather have radio 4 listeners so we have made them another station , well who am i to stand in the way of the bbc i will follow this blog and listen to the occasional show from the radio7 archive that survived to 4extra but i will go to audible and other audio providers and leave you alone,i really would rather pay my cash to a company that gives me what i want and one day the bbc will lose its right to demand a licence fee from people who subscibe to a digitall provider and i will no longer be forced to pay to the money pit the bbc has turned into .
    goodbye radio7 you are missed

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    Comment number 3.

    On Saturday review there was a crit of photo exhibition in which it was stated that the raising of the flag at the Reichstag was staged by the Red Army. This triggered a memory of reading, or hearing on the radio, or seeing on TV that the American flag raising at Iwo Jima was re-enacted for the photograph, as none was taken when it actually happened. Does anyone else remember this?

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    Comment number 4.

    Totally agree with Robert.

    "Like some listeners, I was concerned that the station might become too serious."

    What? Who? Where? Have just checked through the blog posts (yes all of them) and that seems to be the opposite of what is being said.

    It also seems bizarre to me that you want to attract Radio 4 listeners. If they are already listening to Radio 4 and therefore already part of the BBC audience what happens if your Radio 4 audience figures decline? Surely you should be offering choice and not more of the same.

    60 minute "family friendly" dramas (i.e dramatisations of children's books) are not a substitute for 90 minute dramas aimed at adults.

    85% of the schedule is still the same? I'd like to see the sums... Have just been looking at the old Radio 7 schedules and although I am not up to the calculation myself it certainly doesn't appear to be the case.

    And even I downloaded to Ambridge Extra podcast - just to give it a fair chance and find out if it is as bad as the newspaper reviews have said (it is...) I imagine many others have done the same thing.

    Many people who have posted complaints will not be satisfied with this response.

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    Comment number 5.

    I recall the head of Radio 7 being quite adamant on Feedback (Radio 4) about 18 months to two years ago that "what our listeners would like is more detective stories and science fiction". I assume this was you Mary (Mary Kalemkerian) as you've been with the station from the start.

    You knew what your listeners wanted at the beginning and you knew what they wanted two years ago. Why this recent change of mind? Why the belief that they now want something so diametrially different to what you've being giving them for so long? This new sort of genetically modified version of Radio 4 rather than the organically derived archive programming of radio's more nourishing past.

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    Comment number 6.

    its 03:10 just finished listening to a great audio book , no 4extra at all today , thought i would come see what has been said and as the other blog is now closed came here, so get your complaints in quick i think the bbc are running out of patience .
    i was just wondering will the 4extra listening figures be bumped up by the podcast download numbers even though they havent actually listened to the station , also found these .
    This comes as part of a plan to more closely align some digital-only networks with their analogue "sister stations" to help exploit the strength of established brands and programmes.
    so we lost 7 so they could use the radio 4 name to boost figures we knew that but nice to be told after all you couldnt have advertised radio7 to radio 4 listeners .

    Describing the BBC's current radio plan as "a step forward rather than a radical change of strategy", Davie also announced more independence for once-threatened Radio 6 Music, as well as the return of popular comedy DJ combo Adam and Joe to the network in the spring.

    are you sure he should have step forward surely he meant a step sideways and slighty to the rear , and adam and joe why wont ant and dec do radio?

    Despite this raft of digital innovations, Davie was keen to stress the importance of all radio listeners to the corporation, and to reassure them there were no plans to reduce the quality of the analogue experience.

    laugh i nearly well i wont finish that but i think you get the idea, i guess when he said all listeners he meant all listeners in excess of 1 million , and very cleverly he said analogue ,so they can ruin digital as much as they want
    more of this statement at http://www.radiotimes.com/blogs/1199-bbc-radio-4-extra-to-replace-radio-7/

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    Comment number 7.

    I couldn't agree more with Robert's comments. I think he sums up the feelings of the majority of Radio 7 listeners.

    I find the BBC's excuse for changing the station to attract a different demographic at odds with my experience. On a recent visit to London to see my son, aged 31 and his partner aged 24 I was delighted to find that they had discovered Radio 7 and liked it so much that they had it on round the clock. When they discovered it was going to change to the new format they were both very disappointed but decided to give it a try. They both came to visit me this weekend and expressed alarm at what the new station was broadcasting, particularly the new appalling Ambridge Extra and the dire new comedy output - in fact they hate the volume of comedy that now occupies the station. They actually loved the classic comedy shows such asHancock, the Goons and the like. By far their favorites though are the Crime and Thriller programmes such as Paul Temple, the drama and the 7th Dimension output. Whilst they admit that these are still with us they think the overall atmosphere and feel of the station has gone - it has lost it's soul and its identity. They loved Radio 7 exactly as it was and are baffled as to why the BBC wanted to change it.


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    Comment number 8.

    The content of R4’s programme pages is notoriously skimpy and inconsistent, but where there is good programme information, why does 4X insist on changing it? Taking ‘Howards End’ for example, compare the two versions:

    R4: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00n6yws
    R4X: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0107x1n


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    Comment number 9.

    Thank you for responding to the feedback Mary.

    You have defended the amount of drama output and it is true that we have had a lot of serials and these are worth a listen. We have also had the odd 90 minute play most recently Kind Hearts and Coronets so I will try to keep the faith on drama. Also, congratulations on getting The Complete Smiley. That was one of the best pieces of radio drama I have heard for some years but it has to be said it is only a year or so old. So, while you may have secured a significant piece of work, please don't lose sight of the older dramas.

    Do you realise though that what the BBC has destroyed is a station that many listeners were happy to listen to for hours on end? Now, I for one will only be tuning in when I see something in the Radio Times that I want to listen to, although the detail is so scant that is a bit of a challenge. As Russ has pointed out at #8 it is hardly easy to find much useful information on the website.

    Does the return of the Crime and Thrillers hour mean we may get back some of the other old zones?

    You haven't mentioned the large number of short items (often recent ex-radio 4 items) which populate the morning schedules - they are now a no-go area as far as I am concerned as they are exhausting to listen to.

    You mentioned Woman's Hour Dramas and I have in the past sent feedback about how good it was to hear them again at the beginning of the drama hour - just for the avoidance of doubt I did not mean repeating the WHD from just the previous week.

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    Comment number 10.

    Poor old auntie BBC, marketing has never been her strong point!
    Let me try and explain as simply as possible......
    Even if you manage to move some radio 4 listeners to 4 extra, these are NOT new listeners to the BBC, because people only listen to one radio station at a time, so for the time they are listening to 4 extra they are NOT radio 4 listeners. On the other hand, loyal radio 7 listeners who leave because of the mess that's been made of their radio station are no longer BBC listeners at all. Therefore, the net result of all this is LESS listeners, not more...
    I used to have Radio 7 on most days from about 9.30am until around 8.30pm, and was usually back sometime after midnight until I fell asleep. The past 2 weeks I've listened to 4 programmes on the iplayer, and my radio listening is now taken care of by several internet drama, comedy and sci-fi stations, so I'm definitely not a BBC listener any more. Having crime and thrillers back in the early hours of the morning might tempt me back late at night, but the awful morning mess would have to be sorted out before I returned full time.
    Another fact that even the most basic research would have revealed, is that the vast majority of radio 4 listeners are dedicated and vociferous FM users, and won't have anything to do with DAB radio (it's probably them downloading Ambridge extra :-)). After all, even if they happen to be in one of the few area's where DAB actually works, why should they move from a station that gives them what they want in high quality stereo sound to one that gives them much the same thing in decidedly inferior quality mono?

    One more thing, can you please stop your announcers introducing 45min plays as 'long drama'? The correct phrase is 'minimum acceptable length drama'.

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    Comment number 11.

    Mary can explain all she likes about the changes to 7, it doesn't alter the fact that there was no demand for the changes and on the various blogs the overwhelming comment is negative. I've tried to listen 4extra but I just end up switching it off in frustration. As for things have to move on does that include programmes like just a minute, DID, womens hour and many others that haven't changed format in decades.
    I no longer listen to 4 or 4extra but i'm sure the BBC sees me as the wrong demographic and therefore my opinion doesn't matter.

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    Comment number 12.

    More full length 90 minute plays please. You surely have many, many recordings which pre-date the big R4 dumb-down foisted on us 15 years ago by then-controller James Boyle. R4's still lacks any quantity of long, involving drama.

    As 4extra is allowed only a poor quality mono bandwidth on DAB, the vintage of the plays is immaterial technically.

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    Comment number 13.

    I miss Michaela Saunders, I like Arthur Smith but seriously, enough is enough (the repeats are driving me crazy.. before work then after work!!!).. and all being said I listen to Radio 4 for my Radio 4 reasons and like (d) Radio 7 as it had more drama... I ditched the Archers in protest (due to Nigel being killed off) and now you've added Archers Extra! Leave my stations alone (yes, they are mine.. I pay for them don't I???!). Anyone remember C4's Oneword - they came, they meddled, they shut it down!

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    Comment number 14.

    I listened to the radio probably 18 hours a day. I used to switch between 4 and 7 depending on my mood and content. Now I am increasingly switching off or searching the internet for alternatives. The introduction of repeats of R4 programmes so soon after the original is particularly annoying.I may be getting old but even my short term memory is not that bad! Programmes are already repeated on R4 and available on iplayer, why repeat them again and again?
    The loss of the second 90minute drama slot is criminal - there is so little full length drama on radio these days. I look forward to hearing Smiley again but surely there is a lot more from the archives that could be made available to R4X
    I wanted to say something positive about the new schedule but I really can't.

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    Comment number 15.

    Well, so,then, Mary, we are being given what we are told and told to like it eh? Whether it is all the factual programming of the Archers, we have to like it or leave. Well, I guess you see it as YOUR station so maybe we can't complain but there are problems with the present schedules that you could fix and keep some listeners.

    "The Archers and Desert Island Discs are very popular strands, so we decided to build on these strengths to attract Radio 4 listeners (many of whom were/are unaware of the existence of Radio 7). " Interesting - so you want to make Radio 4 Xtra like Radio 4 ... but then it just becomes Radio 4 and you lose all of us who were trying to get away from the factual programmes that are the joy of Radio 4. radio 7 was different and us listeners liked it for that. Are we wrong to like difference - to like fiction and comedy rather than factual? I listen to factual programmes on Radio 4 but at bedtime I want something different.

    Drama, Drama? Well, what happened to the 90 minute plays on Saturday and Sunday nights? Plays from some great playwrights performed by great actors - are we denied that so that you can broadcast Garrison Keeler? Really? If he is so Radio 4 why not put him on Radio 4? As for Sunday night instead of good drama it s more factual at 01:00 onward.

    It is not the way to keep an audience - I mean ask yourself, Mary, how many posts praise the new schedule? Ok, we may be the grumblers but there are going to be plenty more who just turn off and about whom you never know. You've agree to put back Crime and Thrillers at 01:00 so why not give us back drama at the weekend?

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    Comment number 16.

    My comments echo elsewhere but to be part of the massed ranks of complainents; Surely the iplayer is provided for hearing loose-ends, woman's hour etc. I want to hear as much stuff as poss from the distant past, not last week. Ambridge extra is the dumbing-down of the Archers. I saw marvellous comic potential involving characters such as Mr Pullen, Titcombe, Freda Fry giving us a rather bitchy diatribe on the main characters (something that happens in real life but not in Ambridge. Finally "Extra" is a fashionable word unlike "Radio 7"

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    Comment number 17.

    Thanks Mary for at least trying to address some of the issues raised by the (ex)listenenrs but even if 85% of the output is the same, the BBC seem ti have chopped out the best 15% and in turn lost the charm that radio 7 possesed. Losing the longer 90 minute dramas has been especially hard to take as they where the highlight of the schedule for many of us and had restored my love of the art of storytelling.

    All in all i feel as though i've lost a good friend in radio 7. Radio 4 extra just isn't the same. It was the last BBC "product" i still enjoyed and now that it's gone the ties that had bound me to the once great BBC have been broken. Farewell Radio 7, farewell BBC.

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    Comment number 18.

    Actually, very of us are fooled by the '85% the same' statement. Of course, if you break it down into drama, comedy and sci-fi, then that probably does still make up 85% of the programming. The fact that a lot of it is no longer GOOD drama, comedy or sc-fi is somewhat hidden by this statistic. (although, in fairness, The 7th Dimension is still as good as ever - probably because it hasn't changed at all! Thank heavens for the iPlayer.}
    I suppose the appalling Archers extra is still technically drama, in the same way that The Birdie Song is still technically music,(playing it endlessly on Radio 3 probably wouldn't go down too well though, despite the fact that a few people consider it 'a classic'). I also assume that the programmes explaining why it isn't important that the new comedy programmes on 4 extra aren't actually funny in a post-modernist era, are also classified as comedy. The 'only 15%' of change officially recognised is Desert Island discs and the seemingly endless snippets of recent radio 4 that are too short and/or boring for anyone to bother categorising.

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    Comment number 19.

    oops! that should be 'Very few of us.......... :-/

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    Comment number 20.

    #8 Russ, I put your query regarding why programme information can vary between the two networks for the same programme to the 4 Extra team. This is what John Partington, A&M Programme Information Product Manager, said:

    "Russ - thanks for your comment. Yes, you're right, if Radio 4 does have good programme information that should appear on the 4 Extra page too. We try to ensure the best information is always used but we do slip up. At the moment our back end systems don't help networks to share information, so we're re-engineering the system; but it will be autumn before the software engineers finish their work. Meanwhile we'll sort this one out."


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